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From Survivor to Thriver, A Father's
Epic Life Transformation


From Survivor to thriver, A father's epic life transformation

Felicity Cohen:Hello, I’m Felicity Cohen. I’m so excited to introduce you to my Wellness Warriors Podcast. For over 20 years, I’ve been a passionate advocate for helping thousands of Australians find solutions to treating obesity and health related complications through surgical intervention and holistic managed care.

My podcast is dedicated to all the people past, present, and future who have helped shape my journey and continue to inspire me to work consistently to achieve a healthier Australia in both adults and future generations. I hope you enjoy it.

Hello, my name is Felicity. I’m the CEO of WeightLoss Solutions Australia.

Welcome to my Wellness Warriors Podcast. This is a really exciting podcast series for me having been in the world of bariatric surgery now for 20 years, one of my goals is to talk to bariatric patients and to share their stories. Some of them have been dating back to 17 years ago and some are more recent.

As well as talk to other health professionals around their wellness journey. And today I am super excited to introduce you to a patient, his name is Steve Ball. Thank you so much for joining me, Steve.

Steve Ball: Oh, thank you

Felicity Cohen: And for coming on the podcast, your story has really touched me right from the beginning. We first interacted interestingly enough, via Instagram.

And we started having a bit of a chat that led to a phone call. And right from that first contact point, I’ve followed your journey and learned a lot about you just in that first conversation. I’m not sure if you remember it?

Steve Ball: I do.

Felicity Cohen:Yeah, really powerful discussion. And we talked about so many things, even in that first call that were, you know, very powerful commentary around, your how and your why.

Someone can actually get to that point where they’re ready to make a decision. To move on the journey with weight loss, but let’s not focus on that first. Let’s start with, let’s go back to your childhood and what that looked like. And some of the things that potentially were influencing factors throughout your life before you got to the point of weight loss surgery.

Tell me a little bit about, you know, where were you raised and what your childhood look like for you?

Steve Ball: So my early childhood was, pretty traumatic. My biological father was extremely abusive. If you think of the type of abuse, and I was a victim to it. I only have one good memory of him from my first 10 years and from there he disappeared.

He turned up on my 18th birthday and asked me to, for my 18th birthday, if he could pay for me to be, to be part of Amway. And so I dragged him down my mother’s stairs and threw him in his car. But that, for me, like my early years solidified for me that, that I wanted to be the type of dad that I never had.

And my mum, raising three kids and me, I was always just, I was a hellion. I just, I went ballistic you know, and because I suppose being the eldest, I copped the brunt of the abuse from my biological father. And, so my coping mechanisms went to drugs and alcohol and doing really, really stupid things that I don’t know why I didn’t end up in jail.

Felicity Cohen: Can we dig a bit into that and what did that look like?

Because I think it’s a natural response mechanism that so many people will relate to when you are a victim of abuse, the outlet and the natural progression is to look for, is substance abuse or alcohol abuse as a coping strategy and how you use that to feel okay. So tell me a little bit about that journey and how did it make you feel?

Steve Ball: All in all, it just made, I was just empty. You know, I was always looking to try and fill that void of, you know, that whatever I felt was missing. And you know, from I think the first time I smoked pot, I was 12. And I was going to school drunk and high pretty much every single day. And it was through my, when I actually stopped doing that, when I decided to start focusing on my academia, that I started turning to food. And binge eating started when I was 15, 16. 16, I think.

And that, that just became that constant revolution of bingeing and purging. And that lasted up until, I’m really honest, probably about two weeks before my pre-op.

Felicity Cohen: How did you actually resolve the issue with the drugs and alcohol? Obviously it was a big part of your coping strategy for a certain point in time.

What was the trigger that helped you actually, you know, sort that out and stop?

Steve Ball: I had some pretty real conversations with my little brother, and you know, we had, you know, we’d started getting involved with a youth group and things like that. The main thing for me was sitting down with him and him saying to me, “Steve, if you don’t stop, you’re going to end up like that”.

And, yeah.

Felicity Cohen: That’s a pretty powerful realization.

Steve Ball: Yeah.

Felicity Cohen:And then when you started the, you know, turning to food as a coping mechanism, what were the go to kind of outlets? Where would you actually seek that pleasure out from?

Steve Ball: Oh, anything. It was, I don’t think it would, I don’t think for me it was anything that was a specific food, I would, I would go to eat until I could stop thinking.

So for instance, the last binge I had, I went to a Carl’s Jr, and I had got two family sized meals. I sat down and ate that inside two hours.

Felicity Cohen: So it was still dealing with pain. It was a mechanism for dealing with pain.

Steve Ball: Yeah. So, it was that eating until the, until your brain stops because when you eat to that point, you can’t think because your body’s focusing on just trying to process this bulk of food that really shouldn’t ever have to do.

But it stops that, it stops that mental void.

Felicity Cohen:It’s a really tough area to understand. And when we’re talking, you know, bingeing, purging to relate and understand what does that function look like?

How does it make you feel, but even more, so how do you treat and resolve? And I think it’s, you know, just as prevalent in our society, you know, the eating disordered, maladaptive eating behaviors, as much as the drug and alcohol coping strategies. And I see that across the board, in our patient population.

Do you think that there’s enough out there to help people manage?

Steve Ball: I don’t think so. I don’t think in general, you know, there’s so many things that are out there that the choice for all these different things, it’s probably too much for people. Because there’s so many outlets that don’t really have a definite answer.

And like for myself, I went through numerous things before I ended up going, you know what? I actually really just need to find a way to stop myself. And, you know, that was in our first discussion that was, you know, I was talking about how I feel as though I just need to stop. I need something that can physically stop me from doing this, to make me actually have to work through that trauma and work through that hurt.

Felicity Cohen:And I actually remember for you in that conversation, that one of the triggers was all about kicking a football with your son. And we talked about that and how you didn’t feel that you had the physical capacity to act in a way that you wanted to with your child. And that was all about kicking a football.

So there was a trigger there that made you say to yourself, I need something, a solution that’s going to make me stop and change myself, but also changed my parenting.

Steve Ball: Yeah. Yeah, my five-year-old Atreyu, he said to me, probably about a week or two, either way, before I’d messaged, he said, “Daddy, why don’t you kick football with me, like Uncle Ross does with Tyler?”

And I couldn’t say anything apart from, “I can’t do it.”.

Felicity Cohen: Yeah, I so remember that conversation and I know we’re going back a couple of years now, aren’t we nearly, is it that long?

Steve Ball: No, it’s a year?

Felicity Cohen: A year.

Steve Ball: Yeah

Felicity Cohen: So you know, that memory of that point in our conversation has stuck with me because I think it’s such a powerful trigger.

You know, when you’re talking about a child being part of the motivator or the motivation overall to look at change. And you know, I have to say, firstly, you know, congratulations for defining that moment in time and choosing that moment to say, “my life is about to change and I need to change myself”.

And I consider that that’s a really incredible story for you and how powerful for you as a person to make those choices. You chose to do that with drugs and alcohol, and you chose to do that with binge-eating and to choose a totally different pathway, I think is great testimonial to you as a person for making positive, you know, behavioral choices for yourself. And it’s a massive thing to do.

Steve Ball: Yeah.

Felicity Cohen: So huge congratulations. It’s a big turning turnaround in life.

Steve Ball: Thank you.

Felicity Cohen:So then, let’s talk about, you know, some of the other things that led you to make that decision around, “I’m going to have surgery”.

Steve Ball: I suppose, there’s lots of things for me. Like there’s, I’ve drawn on a journey through 2012 to early 2013, where I did them, ‘Michelle Bridges, 12 WBT’, and I went from 204 kilos to 90 in that.

Felicity Cohen: Wow. Over what space of time?

Steve Ball: 14 months.

Felicity Cohen: Amazing. Amazing commitment. Yeah. Drive perseverance.

Steve Ball: Yeah

Felicity Cohen:Huge, huge resilience. And, you had great strength of character to stick to that and do it by yourself because I can tell you that 99% of people who I speak to can’t do that. They can lose weight. People are really great at losing weight. It’s the maintenance factor. That’s the biggest issue when I see that with the yoyo dieting cycle of behavior.

But that is huge.

Steve Ball:Yeah. And for me, it was kind of like that for me, in the way that I’d lost all this weight and it was great, but then the stresses of, because I work a quite high stress job, and always have worked in high stress jobs. And with that, and then, being in a marriage that was just not very healthy.

We were both being quite toxic. It just ended up, you know, I ended up mentally breaking down and going back to those same old coping mechanisms and just honestly, in all honesty gave up.

And it was only when, after my marriage broke up at the start of last year that I decided, you know, like I’ve been, I’ve been talking with Bilsy, with a few other people that are know from the weight loss surgery community for a while.

And I’d, like followed Bilsy’s journey from the very get go because like we’d, started talking like when I was doing 12 WBT I think. And then he, I saw him, his journey of going through bariatric surgery and saying, you know, “I’m putting, putting myself and my health first”.

And I suppose, I spent that next two and a bit years just researching, asking, bugging people, looking at journeys. And I came to that point after Atreyu, just said to me, “Daddy, why don’t you want to kick a football with me?”

Then I was like, well, I’ve never been that, that dad in that way, that I wanted to be, I’ve always been a good dad, but never been that physically and completely emotionally present. And it was that moment that I just decided, you know what, my kids and myself have to come first.

And at that point I was nearly 40 and I struggled the last two winters with, you know, getting colds and stuff and just worrying, “Am I actually going to wake up in the morning?”, you know, because at 170 kilos, when you get, when you’ve already got that severe sleep apnea and you, then you get like a really bad chest infection.

Like, it’s a question now, do I have to prop myself up so that I know that I’ll still be able to breathe? Now I don’t have that, like, but I came to that point where I was like, you know, my kids need me, and I need to be there for them. And I want to see grandkids one day. Like, not yet, because they’re only teenagers, and if they have kids right now, it’s something, something, you know, there’ll be some conversation. But, like that, that was probably one of my biggest driving factors.

Felicity Cohen: So your health was really at risk.

Steve Ball: Absolutely.

Felicity Cohen: At that point.

Steve Ball: Absolutely. Yeah. I had a conversation with my GP probably a year ago, and she said to me, “Steve, if you don’t lose weight, you’re going to be dead inside the next five years.”

Felicity Cohen: That’s probably one of the most powerful statements you could possibly ever hear from a GP.

Steve Ball: Yeah.

Felicity Cohen: That would ring true for you to say I’ve got to act now.

Steve Ball: Yeah.

Felicity Cohen: So that was the catalyst then?

Steve Ball:Yes, that was probably one of those resounding conversations. That through, through this whole, the initial journey of up to deciding that, you know, “Actually I’m trying to be going for weight loss surgery”, to then, you know, every time I’d wake up in the morning, I’m like, “I just don’t feel like going the gym.”.

It’s that, it’s one of those thoughts, you know, there’s those little conversations that you have, all those little situations where I think, you know, I need to be that example for my kids as well. Like I’ve got, you know, my four biological kids who are just freaking amazing. And my daughter competes at a national level in athletics.

Felicity Cohen: Fantastic.

Steve Ball: For like five events. And so she’s now got me out, you know, we’re, we’re running around, we’re doing things. My five-year-old’s now got me, I put a video up on my Instagram and on my Facebook a while back of, of myself and my son running around at this indoor playground.

And for the first time in, oh, I don’t know, since I was a teenager, I went down a slide. And so then I’m up there running around with him just going crazy. And then he and I were racing down the slide and I just decided I’m going to do a video. This, this is cool as hell.

Felicity Cohen: That must’ve felt amazing for you.

Steve Ball: It was incredible. I sat down that night and just, you know, you do those head miles at the end of the day and just thinking, you know, this whole thing has saved my life. You know, this tool has been one of the major factors of me deciding to save and how I’ve saved my own life. I’m now able to be the dad that I’ve always wanted to be, completely.

Felicity Cohen: Amazing, engaged, committed, and present for your children and actively involved in doing the things that you want to be doing with them.

Steve Ball: Yeah. And all the things they want to do.

Felicity Cohen:And that’s a massive shift for you. In 12 months to achieve that. I think it’s hard to understand how that actually looks. That whole transference from being an inactive, not present, not functioning father, to that, first of all, the realization, but transferring through the surgical weight loss pathway to becoming engaged, present, active, doing. You’re a totally different person, but you’re a different dad and you’re a different role model.

Steve Ball:Yeah.

Felicity Cohen: That’s incredibly powerful and it’s life changing for the rest of your life.

So I think. The vision for your future is also a totally different story.

Steve Ball: Absolutely. That’s, it’s actually one of the things that, I was, think I was talking with my 18 year old about it the other week. Is that for me now I know that in 20 years time, I’m going to be that grandfather who is going to be running around with my grandkids, who is going to be going, you know, doing all the things that, I suppose, you know, kids really want.

You know, they want to have that interaction. You know, I explained to someone the other day in conversation that to me now, life is about moments and memories. Because at the end of the day, that’s all you’re left with.

Felicity Cohen: Oh, I love that more than anything.

Life is about moments and memories. If that’s the one big takeaway from our conversation today, I absolutely will take that on board and I love it. That’s Beautiful. And you know, I think your kids are super lucky, which is awesome. You know, those four children, their futures as well have changed drastically through this, so that the impact on family and on future generations, that’s also something that you’re giving to them.

Steve Ball: Yep.

Felicity Cohen: Which is amazing.

So, little story to tell about your relationship status and where that’s gone. And, you know, you had a marriage that was toxic in the past and moving away from that, that’s hard and healing I think. You know, having been through that pathway and journey myself, healing from a very destructive and, and also quite a domestically violent marriage, to grow apart from that heal and move on. And for you, you experienced that in your childhood.

Steve Ball: Yeah.

Felicity Cohen: What is your relationship status now?

Steve Ball: So I have recently started dating an amazing lady. She’s also a bariatric patient, which is just crazy for me, like the fact that she completely understands my journey because she’s been through it, obviously in her own way.

And our personalities are just these crazy mishmash, of like so much similarities yet the differences compliment each other, and I’ve never experienced that.

Felicity Cohen: That’s fantastic. Do you think the surgery common denominator has also supported and helped you through developing your connection in your relationship?

Steve Ball:Oh, 100%!

Yeah. If I wasn’t able to, engage emotionally in with myself and with my children, how could I really be able to do that with a new potential partner?

Felicity Cohen: And that is so interesting to tap into the self love story before you can and feeling confident, feeling happy, and you know, successful as a person. And how you are as a dad to then be able to have a meaningful, happy relationship.

Steve Ball: Yeah.

Felicity Cohen: Yeah.

Steve Ball: Yeah that’s,

Felicity Cohen: Good work.

Steve Ball: Yeah, thanks.

Felicity Cohen: That’s amazing. Congratulations on, you know, that, the start of an amazing new relationship. I can’t wait to see how that evolves over time. I think it’s amazing that you met online. That’s pretty cool.

So let’s just tap into your professional world. And I think, you know, obviously from what I can see, you’ve used a lot of your past personal experience in terms of how you’re an influencer in the workplace.

You work for brave hearts. Tell us a little bit about Bravehearts and what do you do for them?

Steve Ball: Okay. So Bravehearts is, one of Australia’s leading child sexual assault services. And our mission statement is to, is that we want to make Australia the safest place in the world to raise a child.

So we provide education for kids and families, as well as counseling for them, but we also provide, trauma informed training for other organizations and institutions. And my job at Bravehearts is I’m one of the case managers. And I actually specifically work, currently, with, adult survivors.

So adults who were offended against as kids and more specifically those who were in institutions, so churches and schools.

So I deal with a lot of the, the really complex trauma of you know these adults who have not coped their whole life. To, you know, reach out and be able to get some form of, I don’t like using the word justice, because it’s not really justice, but some form of healing for them to be able to move, move on with life, and help them engage in what’s called the National Redress Scheme, which is the follow on from the Royal Commission.

Felicity Cohen:How much of your past story do you think has contributed to how you’re able to implement and help others now?

Steve Ball: Everything. Absolutely. Because the journey of a person who has been a victim of any type of complex trauma is they go from being a victim, to being a survivor, to being, and then from going beyond that survival mode, they become a thriver.

And, you know, and I suppose now I’m able to really show people that example. That, you know, I was a survivor for a very long time. But now I’m truly thriving. I know that I’m thriving. And I use the example, you know, from my life with people at least weekly.

Felicity Cohen:Beautiful, and I liked that from survive to thrive is very powerful as well. You’ve got a really active Instagram page and I love, you know, that’s a tool for us to see your journey and to see your progress.

How does exercise fit into your daily life now? And how important is that to you?

Steve Ball: Oh, it’s it’s the very first thing I do in the morning. So five days a week, I am doing weights and six days a week, I am doing cardio.

Felicity Cohen: Wow. That is impressive.

Steve Ball: So

Felicity Cohen: Your mental fitness and toughness, must’ve improved a lot as well through physical fitness. Do you see a change?

Steve Ball: Yeah, absolutely. It’s actually the reason why I’ve made that, almost every day the first thing I do is wake up and exercise. Because getting that initial alertness in the morning keeps me alert through the day.

And, you know, I’m not waking up and going, “Oh, I need a coffee”, “I need, you know, I need a V”, or whatever to try and survive. I just, I wake up, I’ll have a drink of water. I might have, you know, my supplements and, then I’m on the way to the gym and then from there, I literally go from the gym, you know, shower, get ready and go straight to work.

And like that, it sets up my day.

Felicity Cohen: Oh, I’m so with you on that story. And I think it’s a really powerful, important story to share is the impact of exercise and how that actually makes us, you know, more mentally resilient, tougher and coping better, but also more productive in life in work. I feel that we do thrive when we’re exercising and fine tuning our bodies so much more and treating ourselves well.

So it’s a big part of, you know, your self care kind of model for yourself and obviously your kids are active and healthy as well.

Steve Ball:Yeah, yeah. My, so like I said, my daughter is all about athletics. I’ve got a five year old, that will just do a back flip over couches randomly.

My 18 year old used to go to the gym with me quite a lot. He’s recently decided that he’s too cool, whatever. And my 14 year old is all about fitness. He does a lot of functional fitness at school and then comes home and he’s got this little printout of all of his exercises that he can do at home for, so that, you know, alternatives to going into the gym.

Felicity Cohen:Amazing. Are you joining our Gold Coast Marathon team this year?

Steve Ball: I’m not a marathon runner.

Felicity Cohen: Can you walk the 5.7?

Steve Ball: Oh, yeah.

Felicity Cohen: At least. There’s got to be a minimum. We’ve got to have you on the team. That’s critical.

Alright, I I’d like to, I love chatting to you and I think that we can have another chat further down the track and dive into so much more and explore your journey as you progress. But I’d just like to ask you a quick question in closing today, for you, when you think about wellness and your own personal wellness journey, what does wellness actually mean to you?

Steve Ball:Wellness to me, it’s a holistic sort of term really, because, wellness is something that you can only measure, one, individually, but also it’s about that physical wellness, you know, physical health and wellbeing, the mental health and wellbeing, that spiritual health and wellbeing, you know.

And how does that come to be part of you? Is that try you, being like, you know, if any of that’s out of balance, then it’s all out of balance.

Felicity Cohen: Exactly. Oh, I love that too. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. It’s been fabulous and look forward to another conversation down the track.

Steve Ball: Absolutely.

Felicity Cohen: Thanks Steve.

Thank you for joining us Wellness Warriors Podcast. It’s been a pleasure to have you online with us. If you enjoyed the series, please leave your review, subscribe and follow it. And we look forward to sharing many more stories with you in the future.

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